Al Qaeda militants in Yemen executed three local men in the easterly Hadramout province on Monday whom they suspected of assisting U.S. drone strikes, security sources told Reuters.
In a statement posted online, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) acknowledged the threat it faced from air attacks by unmanned U.S. drones, which require on-the-ground intelligence to guide them in.
AQAP said it had captured a group of spies, adding: “The greatest help they give to the crusaders against the holy warriors is the placing of trackers for American spy planes.”
AQAP is deemed by Washington to be one of the most dangerous franchises of the global militant group and controls broad swathes of Yemen, where security has deteriorated badly since the Arab spring protests that ousted the veteran president in 2011.
The group has mounted dozens of attacks on government officials, security forces and foreigners in recent months, in response to a government offensive on its strongholds. Last month it abducted and killed 14 Yemeni soldiers in Hadramout.
Analysts believe British, Saudi and American intelligence agencies have at times infiltrated AQAP, fearing its ability to carry out attacks abroad, and in 2012 managed to foil what Washington said was a plot by al Qaeda to put a bomb on an airliner bound for a Western country.
The drone strikes have upset many Yemenis, however, because of the civilians they have killed.